Life in Guangzhou – The Wet Market

In my first post about moving over to Guangzhou, lots of you said you’d love to see more of my day to day life – so here we go!

A little warning though – if you are vegetarian, vegan and/or sensitive to images of animals for the purposes of food, this may not be the post for you.

First up I thought I’d share some snaps of my local wet market. This market is one block over from my apartment complex and I shop here several days a week.

There is two levels – street level and basement. At street level you walk in and there is a huge florist with beautiful fresh bouquets. This level also has fruit, tofu, noodles, meat and fish.

china wet market flowers

The concept of doing the big supermarket shop once a week is very unusual here. People shop everyday (sometimes twice!) and purchase just enough for what they need for their lunch or evening meal.

Locals often live in very small spaces and a kitchen may only comprise of a gas burner, a wok, a rice cooker and a couple of shelves – no fridge. Storing large amounts of food long term is not an option.

china wet market roast meat

Roast meat shop – chicken, pork, duck. Many people will purchase roasted meats and then cook rice and veggies at home. They can also buy a small quantity rather than buy a whole chicken or duck.

china wet market strawberries

My girls love buying a bag of strawberries each. Most quantities here are measured in weight per 500g. For the strawberries, 13 yuan (AU$2.70) for 500g.

china wet market noodle shop

The noodle shop. Every type of fresh noodle known to man. Super cheap.

china wet market dumplings

Lots of shops sell freshly made dumplings – they make them on the spot. We eat dumplings at least once a week – easy meal and the kids love them. There are lots of different varieties, most are pork and vegetable but you can also get lots of shrimp or veggie ones.

china wet market butcher

The butchers are a bit different to home, in that they sell EVERY PART of the animal. It can be a bit confronting to start with (especially the buckets of blood!) but I like the no waste philosophy. The butchers stalls are not refrigerated so purchasing meat in the morning is best. They will mince or dice meat for you with their enormous cleavers if you ask.

china wet market fish

Fish are usually sold fresh in tanks or large buckets. Most fish here in Guangzhou are fresh water species from the Pearl River delta, where there are huge fish farms. You can buy sea species like salmon and tuna at the supermarkets but they are expensive.

china wet market chicken shop

The chicken shop – they are freshly slaughtered and plucked at the market if you would like. Whole chickens are sold feet, neck, head, heart and all and often with developing eggs inside, which is considered a delicacy in many parts of Asia.

china wet market frogs

A basket of frogs! It is also not unusual to see snake, crocodile, scorpions, many varieties of eels and turtles at the market.It depends on where you go, the size of the market and the specialty of the stall holder.

Now downstairs in the basement level. This is where all the fresh veggies are, as well as a few small general stalls, dry goods such as rice, noodles, tea, grains and bottles of soy sauce and vinegar.

china wet market mushrooms

So many more types of mushrooms than you see in Australia!

china wet market green vegies

Every type of leafy green imaginable. Makes my green smoothies interesting! Ever heard of asparagus lettuce before? Me either until I moved here. It’s exactly as you imagine – it looks like a giant piece of asparagus with a lettuce on top!

china wet market ginger garlic

The language barrier isn’t much of a problem. The stall holder will hand me a small basket, I fill it up with what I’d like to buy, he/she will weigh each item, then tell me the price. I’m getting pretty good with my numbers but sometimes I struggle so they’ll type it on their phone and show it to me.

china wet market chilis

I’ve started adopting the ‘buy just what you need for tonight’s meal’ shopping style and my ingredients will cost between AU$ 1-4. Being a vegetarian here would be very easy, there is so much to choose from and plentiful alternatives to meat with the varieties of tofu, mushrooms and seaweeds.

china wet market dried goods

There are a lot of dried berries, roots and fungi that are used for soups and teas. The idea of herbal medicine and food that balances the body is ingrained in Chinese culture and evident in how the Chinese people cook and eat.

china wet market kitchenware

Down in the basement you can also pick up kitchenware basics, laundry needs like mops, buckets and storage containers, and there are a few small clothes stalls. Yesterday I discovered a little haberdashery with loads of zips, threads and elastics!

Now that I’ve finished writing this it’s time for me to pop over there and do some shopping for tonight’s dinner!

34 thoughts on “Life in Guangzhou – The Wet Market

  1. Very interesting! I’d love to see what you’re making for a typical meal, also. Thanks for sharing some of your day-to-day stuff!

    1. You are welcome! It’s fun – everything is so new to me so it’s nice to share it with everyone. I’ll definitely post about meals at some point. I’m learning more about Chinese food, and the different cuisines from the provinces. We probably have Chinese 3-4 nights a week and western style the other 3-4 nights. We eat a lot more rice and pork than we do at home in Australia.

  2. So interesting! I love checking out supermarkets/markets when I was in Europe/Fiji. It’s a real learning curve to see how other cultures shop/eat/prepare meals.
    Thanks for sharing!

    1. My pleasure Janine! One of my friends has just moved to Fiji so I’ve been enjoying her fb posts of all the yummy produce and flowers she is buying at her local markets!

  3. Very interesting and such colorful food and photographs! Thanks for giving a glimpse of daily life, Ros. I’ve always lived in Washington State and I’ve only traveled outside the States to the British Isles so China is very different. I just keep thinking what a grand experience this is for all of you, but especially the girls. Perfect age to really absorb everything easier than the adults! Thanks for the tour!

  4. Lovely memories for me. My daughter’s husband Paul grew up there and went to the huge University there. We visited the family and stayed in their flat on the 7th floor. Paul’s niece was 12 and she took us round the shops! Lots of CD shops everything pirated. Paul’s Dad booked us on a Mandarin speaking tour of Northern China. We went where westerners do not usually go. How long are your there for. Do keep writing.

    1. How fantastic Ann sounds like you had an amazing trip! Getting off the beaten track and being able to stay with locals allows you to see a different side of China. At least once a week I meet my husband at his office and we go to lunch with the local staff – they take us to places that we wouldn’t have the confidence or language skills to go to! We will be here for the next four years.

  5. I love all the diversity! Although the meat is so confronting, they do not waste anything (not that they can afford to with such a big population to feed) and it so much better for the environment. I use to shop frequently too when I lived in the inner city and worked in local government. We had a big asian population in Marrickville. Great photos! So lucky the kids get to eat dumplings all the time.

    1. So true – the no waste thing is so important for the environment. Many of the older generation lived through some very hard times in the 60s so frugality is ingrained in their day to day lives.

  6. Brilliant post Ros! Please keep them coming! Perhaps you can do a Chinese cooking course so you can learn how to use all these amazing ingredients? (Except the frogs. I’m going to pretend that photo was in a pet shop.)

    1. I confess I’ve actually eaten frog when I was in Vietnam. It tasted like a mild firm white fish but the meat had more of a chicken type texture. I’d love to do a cooking course, especially in Sichuan cuisine because I love the spicy food!

  7. Ohh sounds exciting! Nothing like fresh food. Id like the concept of buying every few days…especially at that type of market yummmm

  8. Are your children going to thebInternstional School. My daughter went on to live two years in Hong Kong and the boys went to school there. It was Canadian run and they loved it. Hope you learn the language. It must be hard as the locals speak Cantonese and yet Mandarin is the official language. My son in law spoke both but I guess you’d need Cantonese for local friends. It seemed a bit polluted when I was there. Is it still?

    1. Yes my kids are at an international school. We are all picking up a bit of Chinese and I do lessons every Wednesday morning.Everyone speaks mandarin here and many locals speak Cantonese as well but it’s not essential. If you spend more time in Hong Kong you’d definitely need Cantonese. The pollution is not great in comparison to Australia, but it’s much better than other cities like Beijing. Some days are crystal clear and others are very foggy. Depends on wind and weather.

  9. Fascinating! I went backpacking in 2012 and spent a total of 2 months in China (including a brief stop in Guangzhou on my way to Hong Kong). It’s a very different culture! I remember going to visit several wet markets, including one in Guilin where dog is considered a delicacy. Although I’m not especially visually squeamish, I do have a very good sense of smell and the whiff of lots of raw meat and offal in +36oC heat unfortunately had me fleeing shamefully for the nearest side door! However, I can only applaud the no-waste approach to food – with as many people to feed as China has, I shudder to think what it would be like if they were as picky as most Westeners!

    1. I think in the warmer months (which is most of the year here!) wet market shopping is best in the early morning! Sometimes the smell gets me too and I can’t spend too long in there. Two months travelling in China sounds fantastic – I haven’t been anywhere else in China yet and we are looking forward to taking advantage of the new high speed rail system and seeing a bit more of the country.

  10. Thanks so much for sharing all of this. I think it’s so interesting to learn about other cultures, especially the food part. Love all those beautiful greens. I have visited some Asian markets here in the U.S. & initially was taken aback by the whole chickens including the feet. But they waste nothing unlike us in America. I think it would be wonderful to take a cooking class to learn how to incorporate all those unusual items. I’m sure it’s stressful & frightening at times, but what an adventure. And your children will gain such great knowledge while there. Looking forward to hearing more.

    1. I agree Lana – I’m really hopeful to do some cooking courses while I’m here. I do love the Cantonese food but I must confess I’m really loving some of the other provincial cuisines that are spicier – I love spicy food. Hunan and Sichuan food are great!

    1. Haven’t bought flowers yet because I don’t have a vase! Hope I remembered to put one in the shipment. Not sure why it’s called a wet market but I think it’s basically because everything they sell is perishable so when cleaning they just hose everything down! I could be wrong about that though…

  11. OH how fun to see all that you have shown love the meats and the chickens and oh my the frogs, what a surprise. great information to see all that you see and what is there.

    1. Thanks Jeanne – it is a lot of fun exploring and seeing all the new things – very different to the supermarket at home!

  12. I love travelling and sewing and am enjoying your blog. Just back from a 42 night Asian cruise, and went to Hong Kong for the 2nd time. Didn’t get to do any fabric shopping unfortunately as I didn’t pre plan where I would go. Maybe next time. If you would like to see what we got up to, see my blog at quiltscatsandme.com

  13. Hi Ros,
    Just stumbled across your blog and I’m loving your discussions on China. I’m based in England and will be visiting China (for work) later this year staying in Mianyang for about 2 weeks so this is very timely for me!
    Needless to say I’m very excited!

    1. Hi Carol, how exciting! Mianyang is near Chengdu so hopefully if work allows you might be able to see the pandas! I hope you like spicy food – they love their Sichuan pepper out in that part of the country. Wishing you a wonderful trip, feel free to email me if you have any burning questions about China! 🙂

      1. Thank you I think I’m going to fly in and out of chengdu so will try to see the pandas! What’s the area like for tourists? Or shopping?

  14. Hello – great post, glad to hear you’re not afraid to get out and about and try new things, you’re great – I’ll be in GZ next month really looking forward to seeing a different China (been to Shanghai & Beijing) – can you recommend any day trips ? Keep up the great stories. PS do you need anything from Aus, I could drop by maybe ?

    1. Hi Helen, I definitely recommend Cycle Canton. I’ve done it a couple of times with visitors and it’s a great way to see the old and the new parts of the city!

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